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Yukon modernizes the Safety and Compensation Act

The new law brings a number of changes to workers’ compensation in the territory.
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The Yukon Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board says its average assessment rates are currently subsidized due to its over-funded position. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

Changes to the Workers Safety and Compensation Act, passed in the legislature on Dec. 2, will change the way workers receive compensation and improve coverage for firefighters in the territory.

The minister responsible for the Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board, Richard Mostyn, said the new legislation “brings Yukon in line with other Canadian jurisdictions” and is now “clear, simple and accessible.”

The new law replaces the Workers’ Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The updated act is meant to modernize and clarify the old laws, and also included some changes to coverage.

The Act was last changed in 2008.

It also extends PTSD presumption to cover all workers exposed to traumatic events at work. It also adds nine cancers to the presumptive list. Presumptive coverage means that for workers in particular fields of employment a cancer diagnosis is assumed to be work-related.

For those that fall outside that parameter — or for conditions not included on the presumptive list — the burden falls to employees to prove the condition is work-related.

A number of other changes have been made to the way financial compensation is doled out under the Act. Going forward low-income and older workers will have their benefits increased, compensation will be simplified for employers whose workers work Outside for short periods of time. In addition, $15,000 of further compensation will be provided to spouses or other estates of deceased workers to cover funeral costs.

Appeals under the act will also be simplified and their time period will be reduced from two years to one year for compensation claims.

The original draft of the law of presumptive cancers for firefighters added seven new conditions, but after lobbying by the Whitehorse Firefighters Association and opposition politicians, the government modified the legislation to include nine.

The NDP was not as successful at getting a second change made to the law that would have included wildland fire in that coverage. The request was backed by Yukon First Nations Wildfire and the Firefighters Association but opposed by the Wilderness Tourism Association of the Yukon, who argued that a last-minute change could increase premiums for businesses in a number of unrelated industries.

Leader Kate White said she wouldn’t go as far as to block the passing of the bill, since it contains important changes, but she said she was disappointed.

The government chose to pass the bill at the ending of the sitting without a chance for debate or amendment, so she was not able to try and amend the legislation to include wildland fire.

“I recognize that the minister right now is spending so much of his time fear-mongering within the community about covering wildland firefighters for presumptive cancer, that he isn’t prepared to bring it back for discussion today,” she said. “That’s quite telling to me.”

In the House on Oct. 25, Minister Richard Mostyn acknowledged the request to include wildland fire, but he said he was reluctant to make changes on the fly that were not necessarily based on scientific evidence or costed.

He said it could be something the government considers in the future, but in the meantime, all workers are covered through the normal route if they can prove their diagnosis is related to employment.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com